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OSCE Conference Focuses on Racism, Xenophobia, and Discrimination
Tuesday, October 05, 2004

By H. Knox Thames
CSCE Counsel

The second Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe conference on Tolerance and the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and Discrimination convened in Brussels, Belgium, September 13-14, 2004.  Along with the first conference held last fall in Vienna, the two meetings were part of broad efforts by OSCE participating States to address concerns about intolerance and anti-Semitism.

Alphonso Jackson, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, led the United States Delegation.  Other U.S. delegates included Dr. Maha Hadi Hussain, University of Michigan; Tamar Jacoby, Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute; William Cardinal Keeler, Archbishop of Baltimore; Larry Thompson, former U.S. Deputy Attorney General; Robert L. Woodson, President of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise; and Stephan M. Minikes, U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE.

Conference participants included 47 OSCE participating States, five Mediterranean Partners for Cooperation, and many non-governmental organizations representing a range of interests.  His Royal Highness Prince Filip of Belgium, His Royal Highness Prince Hassan of Jordan, and His All Holiness Patriarch Bartholomew I addressed the opening session of the conference.  United States Helsinki Commission Member Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) also spoke at the opening session in his capacity as President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

The Brussels Conference consisted of four plenary sessions and four workshops.  Considering the broad themes of the conference, the plenary sessions focused on a variety of issues related to intolerance: governmental actions in law enforcement and promoting tolerance; efforts to combat discrimination against legal migrant workers; and efforts to promote tolerance through education and the media.  The workshop topics were equally diverse, addressing discriminatory government policies affecting religious freedoms, promotion of tolerance toward Muslims, and combating discrimination based on color. The Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights also reported on its strategy and activities relating to tolerance.      

Members of the U.S. Delegation participated fully in all aspects of the conference, giving introductory statements at plenary sessions and actively engaging in discussions regarding various forms of discrimination.

In the first session, “Legislative and Institutional Mechanisms and Governmental Action, including Law Enforcement,” U.S. Head of Delegation, Secretary Jackson noted that “abuses prompted by disregard for the principles of tolerance and non-discrimination occur in countries across the globe.  Some come in the form of individual acts of racism that harm only small numbers of people at a time.  Others come in the form of national policies that discriminate against certain segments of society.  All pose a challenge that all countries must confront directly in order to guarantee the freedom, democracy, and prosperity that we hold dear.”

During the workshop entitled “Facilitating Freedom of Religion and Belief through Transparent and Non-Discriminatory Laws, Regulations, Policies and Procedures,” Cardinal Keeler stressed that participating States must “work to implement non-discriminatory laws, avoiding those that limit the ability of groups to operate equally. Registration systems should not create unfair tiered systems offering unique benefits and privileges to some and lesser legal status to others, or establish numerical thresholds almost impossible to meet.”

Dr. Hussain’s contribution to the workshop on “Promotion of Tolerance and Non-Discrimination toward Muslims” addressed a number of issues, also singling out specific examples of governmental discrimination against Muslims.  “While the threat of terrorism is real and it can never be condoned, the negative attention stigmatizes communities and fosters xenophobia against minorities—be they Muslims, Arabs or others,” said Hussain.  “It also can result in violation of individual privacy and abuse of police powers.  It is hard to justify these actions, particularly in democratic states where human and minority rights are meant to be protected.”

In the closing session, Secretary Jackson urged OSCE participating States and conference participants to combat all forms of discrimination, especially those based on skin color.  He spoke from his own experiences growing up in the southern United States in the 1960s during the  Civil Rights Movement.  Jackson noted how far the United States has traveled toward tolerance.  He observed, however, that work within the United States is not finished.

“That is why we gathered here this week to share our experiences and learn all we can from one another … to discuss the successes we have achieved in our respective countries … and to recommit ourselves to resolving the challenges that remain,” Secretary Jackson said.  “We know there is much work ahead of us, but as nations committed to promoting tolerance and diversity, we must focus the combined and concerted efforts of government, civil society, and individuals in the pursuit of positive change.”

The U.S. Delegation proposed 13 recommendations for consideration in future efforts to address issues of discrimination and intolerance, which included:

Leaders of participating States should speak out and take resolute action against attacks and crimes directed at individuals based on race, color, religion, political or other opinion, sex, language, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Participating States without anti-discrimination laws should enact such legislation at the earliest opportunity.  Those states with anti-discrimination laws should make strengthening such legislation a top priority.  All states may consult ODIHR on best practices.

Participating States should reach out to minority communities and establish procedures for the reporting of possible bias-motivated crimes and violations of anti-discrimination laws.  Authorities should ensure the rapid and effective investigation and prosecution of such crimes.

Participating States, OSCE Institutions, and NGOs should cooperate in developing training programs for law enforcement and justice officials on legislation relating to hate crimes and its enforcement.

Participating States should affirmatively declare that institutionalized discrimination against religious communities is unacceptable and ensure that their legal systems foster equality, not subordination, of religious groups.  Registration laws, policies, and procedures should be non-discriminatory, neutral and transparent and should not use overly burdensome numerical or temporal thresholds.

The OSCE should consider meetings on the promotion of tolerance and nondiscrimination toward Muslims.

The conference concluded in similar fashion to the Berlin Conference on Anti-Semitism, with the reading of a declaration by OSCE Chair-in-Office, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy.  The “Brussels Declaration” condemned “without reserve all forms of racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism and other acts of intolerance and discrimination, including against Muslims” and organizations and individuals that promote “hatred or acts of racism, xenophobia, discrimination, or related intolerance, including against Muslims, and anti-Semitism.”  In parallel to the Berlin Declaration, the Brussels Declaration also declared “unambiguously that international developments or political issues never justify racism, xenophobia or discrimination,” while also rejecting the “identification of terrorism and extremism with any religion, culture, ethnic group, nationality or race.”

Following the Berlin precedent, the Brussels Declaration incorporated a previously agreed Permanent Council decision setting forth actions participating States and ODIHR should undertake.  Reinforcing the PC decision for Berlin, participating States again agreed to “collect and maintain reliable information and statistics about hate crimes” and to forward that information to ODIHR periodically, and directed ODIHR to work with international organizations in this endeavor and to report their findings to the Permanent Council.  States decided to “take steps to combat acts of discrimination and violence” against Muslims, migrants and migrant workers, and to consider “undertaking activities to raise public awareness of the enriching contribution of migrants and migrant workers to society.”  In addition, governments committed to “consider establishing training programmes for law enforcement and judicial officials on legislation and enforcement of legislation relating to hate crimes.”

The Brussels Declaration and statements given at the conference are available at http://www.osce.org/events/conferences/tolerance2004.

The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords.  The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce. 


United States Helsinki Commission Intern Judy Abel contributed to this article.

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